2019/20 WNBL season review: University of Canberra Capitals

WE conclude our Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) team season reviews with the University of Canberra (UC) Capitals. It was a dream year for the reigning premiers who after finishing second on the table at the end of the regular season, managed to topple both the Melbourne Boomers and Southside Flyers on their way to back-to-back WNBL titles.

Ladder: 2nd (Premiers)
Win-loss: 15-6

From coast to coast, Canberra viewing parties sprung up, as people came together in joyous ecstasy to support the Capitals team. Everywhere in Canberra, there was (and still is) a sense of pride for the Capitals basketball team and what they accomplished. This immortalised group of women achieved a feat that very few have ever done, back-to-back champions, and in remarkable fashion. Winning their last game with a dagger from beyond the arc to put Canberra in front and have a 71-68 win over the Southside Flyers, just three days after the Capitals beat the Flyers by merely two points in Game One. But at the start of this memorable season, Capitals fans were not as joyous, starting the off season by losing four-time champion, Kelly Wilson. With Lauren Scherf heading to Sydney Uni, while Leilani Mitchell departed for Southside, it was reassuring to welcome former Capitals’ player, Mikaela Ruef and French national, Olivia Epoupa to the squad. Entering the season as reigning champions, it was clear the Capitals were the team to beat, and they carried this chip through all 26 game of the season

This team, from preseason to the grand final, was built around a number of star players, but the award winner for season 2019/20 was Kia Nurse. Winning Most Valuable Player (MVP), and all Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) First Team honours, Nurse would annihilate opponents, scoring the ball from all angles, leading her to average 20.9 points a game. This production of baskets resulted in her also receiving the top shooter award, an achievement given to the player who accumulated the most points for her team in a season. Playing as a tall gritty unit, the Capitals loved to play in the paint, smashing every team in the competition in total two-pointers made and attempted. A big reason they could play like this is because of last season’s MVP, Kelsey Griffin, who would collect nearly 11 rebounds a game, leading for the team, and playing a major role in the team leading the league in that area despite missing a portion of the season due to injury. Playing the second option on offence behind Nurse, the pair would combine for a mouth watering 828 points for the season, an accomplishment made easy when you obtain one of the best playmaking point guards in the league. Epoupa’s ability to move the ball and get everyone involved was second to none, and definitely was one of the most surprising breakout stars for the year, contributing to the team’s success more than anyone had ever suspected coming into the season. The French star would be given the recognition she deserved when she won the Finals MVP in one of the hardest fought finals series in recent memory. The Capitals made their way back to the grand final to take on the Flyers, a team that had secured the top spot of the ladder by two wins and had bested the Capitals once out of their three meetings. But after two thrilling games where the difference in margin was three points or less, the Capitals won their eighth title. 

After winning back to back titles, the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘are we going to see another Capitals dynasty?’. Last year they won their first title since the 2009-10 season, the last of a golden era which bore an unprecedented seven titles in 11 seasons. The future is uncertain for now with Nurse heading back for the WNBA season – though she has returned each off-season to the Capitals – but fans should have faith regardless that if 2019-20 coach of the year Paul Gorris, will come up with a solution to remain as the team to beat.

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